a group of men on bicycles
Adi Deutsch (far right), seen here on a cycling trip in the US, rides with the help of a prosthetic leg made specifically for cycling. (Photo/Scott Lasky)

IDF vet who lost limb in ’79 pedals through Bay Area

When Golani Brigade infantryman Adi Deutsch was returning to his base near the Israel-Lebanon border in 1979, his life was forever pushed onto a different course.

The 20-year-old had was coming back from a reconnaissance mission into south Lebanon, which he survived just fine, but then he stepped on a land mine. As a result, surgeons had to amputate his right leg below the knee.

“The 40-minute chopper ride to Rambam hospital [in Haifa] changes your life,” he recalled. “Right at the beginning, I dealt with why it happened to me. I accepted it as a fact.”

the two standing in cycling gear
Sacramento resident Phil Fine with Deutsch, who has his cycling prosthesis on (Photo/Scott Lasky)

Even though Deutsch is what some would call disabled as a result of his service with the Israel Defense Forces, he doesn’t feel as though he sacrificed anything. “I’m not quite sure I would call it a sacrifice,” he said, emphasizing that in his duty to his homeland, there was always a risk of being injured, or worse, especially where he served, near the border during Lebanon’s civil war.

Today Deutsch, 58, lives in Rehovot, near Tel Aviv, and is a father of three. Instead of giving up in the face of his injury, Deutsch pushed himself to athletic achievement. When not training for triathlons or Ironman competitions, Deutsch serves as managing director of an Israeli association of community centers.

He was in the Bay Area last week courtesy of the Friends of the IDF, a nonprofit that supports current and former IDF soldiers and their families. Deutsch gave a pair of talks and pedaled his way through some scenic areas on a 30-mile bicycle ride around Silicon Valley. It took place on March 11, with more than 25 riders signing up to join him.

Sports have always been important to Deutsch, and after his injury, he refused to give up his passion.

“I wasn’t willing to give up on my dreams,” he said. In the ’80s, not long after his injury, he competed in volleyball and swimming wearing a prosthetic limb; since 2000, he has been an avid cyclist.

But it wasn’t until recently that he was able to push himself to the limit.

As a participant in the FIDF Strides Program, which offers wounded veterans advanced technology to allow them to participate in challenging sports, Deutsch’s life changed for the better. In 2011, the FIDF covered the costs to outfit him with a set of three prosthetic limbs — one for walking, one for cycling and one for swimming.

Deutsch said that in Israel such advanced prosthetics aren’t typically available. They are not cheap either. For example, the prosthetic leg suitable for running cost about $25,000 to manufacture.

He described the three new limbs as a “game changer.” After more than 30 years, he gained the ability to run once again. “It gave me a new energy and energizing feeling,” he said.

Now his list of accomplishments reads like the resume of a champion. With several triathlons under his belt, he’s also run the New York City Marathon, and he placed fourth in a recent Ironman competition in Israel.

It’s that sense of possibility — and his own athletic achievements — that Deutsch hopes will inspire and motivate the people he speaks with in the Bay Area. That he didn’t give up should set an example, he said.

“With my story,” he said, “I want to give the power to motivate people to go out and struggle and achieve dreams.”

max cherney
Max A. Cherney

Max A. Cherney is a former J. staff writer.